Friday, August 19, 2005

The Stench of Legitimacy

Another repost from the fray, this in response to an article on "the canard of 'classical training'". Seems some journalist took exception to the fact that some pop/punk/rock/metal artists make dubious claims of having received "classical training" to "legitimize" their music. I, too, took exception . . . to the notion that an artist needs to do anything to legitimize his or her art other than make it and find an audience for it. I'm particularly proud of this one--not because it's particularly great writing, but because it offers a more complete glimpse into my true artistic values than do the others.

So here, for a second look:


I have flippantly tossed about the term "classical training" in reference to musicians I admired, so my hands are a little dirty on this. And yes, I'm sure that a truly classically trained musician may take exception to so glib an application of the term. But the real reason such terms get used so frequently is something only hinted at in the article: Elitist dismissal of modern forms of vernacular and popular music.

I have often referred to Mike Patton's "classical training", which I know about only because I read in an article that he studied some opera. What I KNOW is that Faith No More (particularly circa "Angel Dust"), Mr. Bungle and Fantomas have made some of the most complex and visceral music ever to be too damn weird for the pop canon and too damn pop for the classical canon. The music doesn't need the stench of legitimacy to render it legitimate; and yet I feel compelled to offer it precisely that dubiously sought aroma. Why? Because as an educated man (of sorts) and a (moderately) trained stage actor, I'm supposed to bow to the gods of academic tradition and precedent.

I think that what we forget is that all art begins with someone who doesn't know what they're doing. Sonic Youth picked up instruments they didn't know how to play correctly, and that "incorrectness" has since become the foundation of a new school of technique that has not only influenced (and continues to influence) post-punk music, but led Sonic Youth to tackle composition by some of their aesthetic forbears (Cage, Ives, Glass) on "Goodbye 20th Century". Jean-Luc Godard never attended film school; and yet the French New Wave, which he is often credited with all but inventing, created a new chapter in the academic cirriculuum of modern film theory. And don't get me started on jazz, once a music played in bars and whorehouses by men who, often as not, had no more training in classical music than I do in animal husbandry (that's, um, none, in case you're wondering). Yet now, thanks to the tests of time, jazz is granted high regard quite nearly on par with classical music in measures of aesthetic and historical importance.

I don't object to classical training, or the claim thereof, if classical music is what you want to play. Feel free, also, if you must, to defend your precious "classical training" from any dilution of its meaning. In turn, may I suggest that rock, a form still too young to have earned induction into the canon, and particularly younger, more ostensibly academic variations thereon--post-punk, post-rock, krautrock and its descendants, and whatever genre you may suspect will have future importance--not be asked to serve proof of its legitimacy in order to be taken seriously as an art form.


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